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No Children, But Science Getting “Left Behind” in the US

January 25, 2011 1 comment

In 2002, the Bush administration instituted the ‘No Child Left Behind’ Act (NCLB). The act was designed to institute standards-based education reform, in which standardized tests would be given to students all over the country, and largely increased funding in public schools.

Although some statistics show positive results, it is very difficult to measure success of the program since it was instituted in every state, giving no basis for comparison.  It has also been criticized for putting too much focus on the standardized testing, possibly encouraging teachers to “teach to the test”.

This teaching to the test problem has started to show itself in the science scores of many American students. Because NCLB focuses primarily on reading, writing and math, many other subjects get ignored.

The National Assessment of Education Project (NAEP) released the results of the 2009 Science assessment today. As reported by Science Magazine, the results are not good.

The 2009 assessment, which focused on science, found that 40% of high school seniors perform below the basic level in science and only 1% at the advanced level. Younger students did marginally better, with 29% of fourth-graders and 38% of eighth-graders falling below basic and 1% and 2% at the advanced level, respectively.

How does this compare to previous years? It is actually difficult to say:

Test officials, which call NAEP “the nation’s report card,” say the content has changed so much that the results can’t be compared with previous assessments in 1996, 2000, and 2005.

The test has been revamped in recent years to better reflect what the students learn in a particular grade, and also measure how students are able to apply what they have learned in the classroom to real life situations; a skill particularly useful in the field of science.

Science is simply not getting enough attention in the classroom. It seems to be getting passed over in favour of teaching more reading and writing skills.

Reading and writing are certainly important, but does that mean these subjects should be emphasized so much that other subjects start to suffer? This seems like the wrong direction in which to go when it comes to education reform.

So how does the US of A compare to the rest of the world in science, math and reading scores?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released its 2009 country rankings in these skills. The USA ranked 23rd of all countries tested in science scores. Shanghai-China ranked #1 in the science category, with Canada placing 8th.

Standardized testing has a lot of drawbacks. And although reading, writing and math skill are important, if students don’t learn how to apply those skills to their daily life then what was the point in learning them in the first place?

Simply regurgitating facts from a textbook is not an effective learning strategy. Application is how we truly get math and writing skills mastered, so science education should not continue to be neglected.